La Grande Chartreuse is the head monastery of the Carthusian order and is situated in the Chartreuse Mountains north of Grenoble, France. The order, founded in 1084 by St. Bruno, follows rules called the Statutes. Visitors are not permitted at the monastery and motor vehicles are prohibited on nearby roads. Philip Gröning’s movie about the monastery, Into Great Silence, is available for loan at both the Voorheesville and Guilderland public libraries.

Nearly 50 years ago, I made a rule never to recommend movies, restaurants, and vacation spots to anyone save a few intimates whose number today I gladly count on half a hand.

And though I firmly believe rules are made to be kept, I’d like to call attention to Philip Gröning’s 2005 documentary on the Carthusian monks at La Grande Chartreuse, the Carthusian motherhouse in the valley of the Alps of Dauphine north of Grenoble, France.

The highly critically acclaimed film is called Into Great Silence and its tourdeforcity is a human magnet.

At a period when Gröning was obsessed with trying to understand “time,” he wrote to the superior of the 4,268-foot high Carthusian charterer house seeking permission to record the life of the monks. The superior wrote back saying they wanted to think about it. Sixteen years later, Gröning received a reply saying they were ready, if he still had interest.

He did and arrived at the monastery in mid-March 2002 as a team of one: the film’s director, producer, cameraman, soundman, grip, and whoever else was needed to get the job done. To fully grasp the depth of silence the monks lived in, Gröning decided to live with them and follow their highly structured horarium. 

And though the monks chipped in to help Gröning move his equipment up mountainous slopes surrounding the monastery when needed, the director was solely responsible for lugging his tools.

One day, while shooting along a steep ridge, he fell 20 feet and found himself spread out on a slab of stone thinking his day had come. It hadn’t, and after a bit he was back shooting the 120 hours of film that served as the vein from which he mined the 162 minutes that comprise Into Great Silence.

The editing was harrowing for Gröning; it took him more than two-and-a-half years to find a proper narrative. He could not find the glue to hold things together.

Those familiar with Roman Catholic religious orders know the Carthusians are the strictest of all. The monks live in near-total silence, spending most of the day in their cells (warmed by a tin-can-shaped wood-fired stove) and in a walled-in garden.

In these spaces, the monks meditate, pray the liturgy of hours, read, write, and eat alone. Each monk washes his own clothes, does his own dishes, splits his own wood (it gets cold there), and works in the garden for exercise and cultivating plants.

The monks are also assigned communal chores to support the upkeep of the house. For some, this means making the green-colored Chartreuse liquor for which the monks have been famous for centuries.

Some have said the highly structured schedule leaves no “free time” for the monks, but the monks say their whole life is free.

They do leave their cells to chant in the chapel and celebrate Mass. On Sundays, they eat together in silence as one of the monks reads aloud and once a week they take a walk in the woods for hours where they converse about “edifying” things. Gröning caught the monks sliding down the snowy slope of a hill, yelping like kids on holiday, using their shoes as sleds.

Twice a year, the monks may receive a daylong visit from family members, and the silent grounds of the monastery grow abuzz with the chatter of kids and adults alike. Though not of this world, the Carthusians recognize the importance of the human feelings and the connections the monks had (have) with the families they grew up in.

They sleep no longer than three hours or so at a time. To bed at eight, they’re up past eleven praying and singing psalms, then back to sleep for three hours, and up again to celebrate more lectio divina.  Those who persevere after the novitiate spend an average of 65 years in the monastery doing the same thing every day of every year, with no place to go and no apparent goals.

Gröning beautifully captured their spirit on film and I recommend it because it does deal with “time” in that it shows human beings who treat each moment of life as if it were the totality of that life and who find happiness in such gestures of gratitude. If you watch the film, it will blast smugness out of every bone.

When I speak to Roman Catholics about the film, more than a few claim the movie is a Roman Catholic venture because the Carthusians are a Roman Catholic order. And I tell them they are reading it wrong because the movie is about human beings who fully appreciate what life presents to them each moment of the day, and that that human possibility is not sectarian but belongs to everyone.

I saw the movie at the Spectrum 8 in the city of Albany when it first came out and it knocked my socks off. I was back three days later for a second sock-knocking. I’ve watched it on DVD after that but judiciously because it is such a workout. 

The writer Adair Lara said that, when she was growing up, her mother “used to wash our clothes in a wringer washer and then hang them on the clothesline outside.  As she pinned up each garment, she said, she thought about the child it belonged to.  She never wanted a dryer, even after we could afford one, because it would steal this from her, this quiet contemplation.”

That woman understood the great silence of La Grande Chartreuse, aware of the precious gift that every moment is, realizing that that gift could disappear in the blink of an eye.  

If you decide to watch the film, pour yourself a beer or cup of tea, or whatever you like to have at the movies, sit back, and give yourself over to the life ahead without interruption.

You will be transported into another world of time and space and perhaps like me return transformed, an appreciator of the soil in which great silence is born.

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who lived from 1793 to 1864, has long been heralded as Guilderland’s most prominent son, in these pages and elsewhere.

In his local history classic Old Hellebergh, published in 1936, the late Guilderland town historian, Arthur Gregg, said, “There has never been in the long category of soldiers, patriots, statesmen, manufacturers, educators, and jurists, born and reared in sight of the ‘Clear Mountain,’ [the Helderbergs] one with more fame than the pioneer . . . Henry Rowe Schoolcraft.”  

A Renaissant-like omnivore of human experience, Schoolcraft was a glass manufacturer early in life, then a mineralogist, then a geologist, explorer, ethnologist, poet, editor, and for 19 years, from 1822 to 1841, served as United States Indian Agent headquartered at the frontier posts of Sault Ste. Marie and Mackinac Island, assigned the tribes of northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

To many folklorists, Schoolcraft is considered the first “scholar” to amass and publish a body of Indian folklore and deserves to be called the father of American folklore.  When he arrived in Michigan, he lived with the family of John Johnston, an Irish fur trader who married the daughter of a prominent Ojibwa war chief and civil leader from northern Wisconsin.

Schoolcraft married Johnston’s daughter, Jane, who provided him with a host of Chippewa legends. His mother-in-law gained access for him to stories from “the greatest storyteller of the tribe” and to ceremonies open only to tribe members.

Schoolcraft’s ethnological findings were published in many volumes, the magnum opus of which is his six-volume folio-size Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, published between 1851 and 1857, and costing $150,000.

As editor and writer, Schoolcraft, in 1826 and 1827, produced a much-sought-after weekly journal called the Literary Voyager. The 15 issues constitute the first magazine produced in Michigan and one of the first to appear in the frontier west.

Schoolcraft’s accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. In the Midwest, particularly Michigan, the Schoolcraft name is ubiquitous. A Michigan County is named after him, a town, a village, river, lake, island, highway, ship, park, and even the culinary arts Schoolcraft College in Garden City, Michigan has a food court called Henry’s.

As a person with an abiding interest in local history, I paid due attention to Schoolcraft over the years, particularly his relationship with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow whose epic poem, “The Song of Hiawatha,” was based on information Schoolcraft published.

But what enthralled me most about Schoolcraft was a touching one-page story I came upon two years ago when I was looking at Oneóta or Characteristics of the Red Race of America, published in 1847. It is called “Chant to the Fire-Fly.” 

Schoolcraft relates that on hot summer evenings before bedtime Chippewa children would gather in front of their parents’ lodges and amuse themselves by singing chants and dancing about. 

One spring evening, he says, while walking along St. Mary’s River, the evening air “sparkling with the phosphorescent light of the fire-fly,” he heard the Indian children singing a song to the firefly. He was so taken with the chant he jotted it down in the original “Odjibwa Algonquin [sic].” 

Below the text, Schoolcraft offered two translations of the chant — one “literal,” the other “literary” — of a song he says that was accompanied by “the wild improvisations of [the] children in a merry mood.”

I will not give the Ojibwa — you can find it on page 61 of Schoolcraft’s Oneóta — but I will provide Schoolcraft’s literal translation. After I read the poem several times, I could not escape its charms. I envied Schoolcraft that evening when he first heard the children sing. This is his translation:

 

Flitting-white-fire-insect!

Waving white-fire-bug!

Give me light before I go to bed!

Give me light before I go to sleep!

Come little dancing white-fire-bug!

Come little flitting-white-fire-beast!

Light me with your bright white-flame-instrument—

Your little candle.

 

I was so taken with this text that I wrote two poems about the firefly and started looking deeper into the story but the more I did the more I smelled something rotting in Denmark.

That is, I found a chorus of folklorists, linguistic anthropologists, ethnopoeticists [mine], and those of that ilk, taking Schoolcraft to task for being a “textmaker” rather than a scientist dedicated to taking down the Indian world as it presented itself to him.

Schoolcraft wanted to produce something “literary” (marketable), and to achieve that, he engaged in mediating between what the Indians said and what a projected readership might accept from the “savage.”

Schoolcraft says he began to weed out “vulgarisms,” he “restored” the simplicity of style, he broke legends “in two,” “cut [stories] short,” and lop[ped] off excrescences.”

In the introduction to The Myth of Hiawatha and Other Oral Legends, published in 1856, he said the legends had been “carefully translated, written, and rewritten, to obtain their true spirit and meaning, expunging passages, where it was necessary to avoid tediousness of narration, triviality of circumstance, tautologies, gross incongruities, and vulgarities.” In other words, what did not fit his aesthetic and religious views of reality, went.

While giving credit to Schoolcraft for his pioneering work, the early 20th-Century folklorist Stith Thompson noted, “Ultimately, the scientific value of his work is marred by the manner in which he reshaped the stories to suit his own literary taste. Several of his tales are distorted almost beyond recognition.”

This is not an imposition of postcolonial standards on Schoolcraft’s doings. As Richard Bremer points out in his full-length biography of Schoolcraft, Indian Agent and Wilderness Scholar, even Francis Parkman told Schoolcraft to stick to the facts.

Though he often exhibited paternalist sympathies with the Indians, Schoolcraft signed treaties as the Indian Commissioner for the United States that displaced the Michigan Indian. The Treaty of Washington in 1836, concluded and signed by Henry Schoolcraft and several representatives of the Native American nations, saw approximately 13,837,207 acres (roughly 37 percent of the current State of Michigan) ceded to the People of the United States.

I went over to Willow Street the other day to visit Henry’s house, waiting in the cold outside, thinking he might come out. I have many questions for Henry Rowe Schoolcraft.

Peter Henner, a lawyer from Clarksville, wrote an award-winning chess column for The Altamont Enterprise, "Chess: The Last Frontier of the Mind,"  for four years, retiring from the column in the fall of 2014 to resume his law practice on his own terms. His columns are archived here.

In the winter of 2015, Dennis Sullivan, a scholar and historian from Voorheesville, began his column "Field Notes."

 

Tal0Smyslov Bled 1959

White to move and mate

Solution: 1. Qxf7! forces mate. If 1..Rxf7, then 2. Rxd8 Rf8 3. Rxf8+ Ng8 4. Rxg8# If 1…Rg8, then 2. Qxg8 Nxg8 3. Nf7# If 1..Re8, then 2. Qg8+ followed by 3. Nf7#.

Crossword puzzle lovers may have wondered about the frequent clue “Russian chess champion” (three letters). The answer is “Tal,” as in Mikhail Tal, who died on June 28, 1992. The “Magician of Riga,” as he was known, Tal became the eighth World Champion in 1960, at the age of 23.

The Soviet-Latvian Grandmaster, who had been terrorizing the chess world for the previous five years, particularly the relatively staid Soviet players, with his unorthodox style of play, was, at the time, the youngest player to win the world championship.

Tal was known as a brilliant attacker, a creative genius, who played intuitively and unpredictably. Today, with modern computers, we know that many of his speculative sacrifices were unsound and should have lost.

Tal himself said “There are two types of sacrifices: correct ones, and mine.”

However, it was not easy, even for the world’s best players, to refute these sacrifices over the board, and contemporary analysts usually were unable to show why or how Tal could have been defeated.

His style was a challenge to the Soviet school, exemplified by Mikhail Botvinnik, which preferred systematic logical chess, buttressed by hard work and study. Botvinnik, who, with one interruption, had been Champion since 1948, prepared carefully and methodically for the 1960 match.

Tal, in contrast, simply played a tournament in his hometown. Tal decisively won the match by a score of 12 ½ - 8 ½.

However, the Fédération internationale des échecs rules at the time permitted a rematch for a defeated Champion, which Botvinnik won, 13-8.

In the second match, Botvinnik, once again carefully preparing for the match, deliberately played for closed positions, leading to positional struggles and endgames, and avoiding the sharp tactical play that Tal loved.

During the rematch, Tal continued to play his favorite Nimzo-Indian Defense and the aggressive advance variation of the Caro-Kann, even as it became clear that these openings were not working for him. It was not until five years after the match that Tal, playing White against Botvinnik, abandoned the advance variation in favor of the more common Panov variation and won easily.

Tal had a great career, winning the USSR championship six times between 1957 and 1978 (when that tournament was probably the strongest tournament in the world), established a record in 1973 - 74 by playing 95 tournament games without a loss (46 wins and 49 draws), and tied with Karpov for first in the 1979 Montréal “Tournament of Stars.”

Although he continued to compete in world championship cycles, he never again played a match for the world championship. However, at the age of 51, he won the World Blitz Championship ahead of then world Champion Kasparov.

Tal died young: He suffered from serious health problems all his life, complicated by chain-smoking, excessive drinking, and partying. His wife, Salli Landau (they were married from 1959-1970), who wrote a biography of Tal, noted that, while some people thought he might have lived longer by taking better care of himself, if he had done so, he would not have been Tal.

She also commented that Tal “was so ill equipped for living… When he traveled to a tournament, he could even fact is on suitcase… He didn’t even know how to turn on the gas for cooking…Of course if he had made some effort, he could have learned all of this. But it was all boring to him. He just didn’t need to.”

In the spring of 1992, shortly before he died, Tal escaped from his hospital room to play in a blitz tournament. The following game, played against Kasparov, is generally regarded as his last game.

Tal –Kasparov 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Nd7 4. d4 Nf6 5. O-O a6 6. Bxd7 Nxd7 7. Nc3 e6 8. Bg5 Qc7 9. Re1 cd 10. Nxd4 Ne5 11. f4 h6 12. Bh4 g5 13. fe gh 14. ed Bxd6  15. Nd5 (a Typical Tal move! Houdini says the position now goes to -2.0 for Tal) ed 16. ed+ Kf8 17. Qf3 and Black forfeited on time.

The computer says Tal is losing, but it is not so easy to meet the threats on the board. And so Tal leaves the game as he found it, playing aggressively, speculatively, for the fun and joy of the game.

No column for the summer 

I have been writing this column for more than four years, and am going to take a break for the summer, until late August.

In the last year, I have put a lot of energy into chess — playing, studying, writing about it — and I want to take some time to do some self-evaluation, decide whether I want to keep doing as many chess things as I have been doing. 

This week’s problem

Here Tal finds a neat mating attack against former world champion Vasily Smyslov, who had also defeated Botvinnik for the world championship (in 1957) only to lose a rematch the following year.

After the crucial first move, White mates in no more than four moves.

Location:

E.Z. Adams – C. Torre New Orleans 1925

White to move and win

 

Solution

 

The point is to force the Queen away from the defense of e8, by chasing her around the board.   18. Qg4 Qb5 (18.. Qxg4 19 Rxe8 Rx8 20. Rxe8#) 19. Qc4 Qd7 20. Qc7 Qb5 21. a4 Qxa4 22. Re4 Qb5 23. Qxb7

As those of us who are Red Sox fans know all too well, sometimes the favored competitor that has a history of winning somehow finds a way of winning, even when it appears that he or she does not deserve it.

Defending Champion Gata Kamsky and four-time, and twice defending Women’s Champion Irina Krush both came from behind to become part of three-way ties for first place in the 2014 United States Open and Women’s  Championships, and then went on to win their playoffs.

Although Kamsky was undefeated after 10 rounds, he had only won twice, and never been leading the tournament, and had a score of 6-4. Earlier in the tournament, he had predicted there would be a new champion this year.

However, the two leaders, Alexsandr Lenderman  and Varuzhan Akobian, had scores of 6½ - 3½, and were scheduled to play each other.  Both played hard, continuing to play for a win even as the game simplified into a drawn rook and pawn ending.

Lenderman, the early leader of the tournament, playing White, said he had no idea how the playoff worked because he wasn’t planning on drawing the game.  Meanwhile, Kamsky managed to win a difficult game against Josh Friedel to force a three-way tie at 7-4.

Kamsky had the best tie breaks, and was therefore designated to play the winner of an Armageddon playoff game between Akobian and Lenderman. Akobian, playing Black, needed only a draw to advance to the final game against Kamsky.

He found a pretty Bishop sacrifice, which led to a forced win. The finals consisted of two games played at a time control of 25 minutes for game with a five second for move increment. After drawing the first game with the black pieces, Kamsky won the second with White, to claim the championship.

Krush, like Kamsky, went undefeated in the tournament.  However, she complained of a mild fever during the tournament, and had given up three straight draws going into the penultimate eighth round, where she defeated her main rival, four-time champion Anna Zatonskih.

In the last round, Tatev Abrahamyan, with 5½ - 2½, won her game early; if either Krush or Zatonskih, both with 6-2, won, she would have been eliminated. However, both drew, setting up a three-way tie at 6½, 2½ .

In the Armageddon playoff, Abrahamyan, playing Black, forced a draw by perpetual check against Zatonskih, to set up the final against Krush. Krush won the first game with White, then held on for a draw in the second game with Black to win the title.

Ashritha Eswaran

After achieving an even score after five games, Ashritha Eswaran faded to finish with 3½ - 6½.

It is still unprecedented for a 13-year-old girl to play in a U.S. championship, and she certainly demonstrated that she can compete with the best women in the country.

Sam Shankland

Although a poor start disqualified Sam Shankland from a chance of winning, he had the distinction of defeating the tournament leaders on two occasions: Lenderman in the sixth round and Akobian in the ninth round, to ultimately finish with a score of 6-5.

Lenderman – Shankland

U.S. Championships

St. Louis 20141. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bf4 O-O! 6. e3 Nbd7 7. Qc2 Shankland usually plays 2…c6, and Lenderman seemed a little surprised by the opening 7. c5 is more common.

7... c5 8. Rd1 cxd4 9. Rxd4 Qa5 10. Rd1? Lenderman thought a long time before this move, which leaves him with an inferior position. GM Finegold commented that 10 Bg3 is the only move played in top-level play.  10..Nb6 11. Nd2 Bb4 12. a3 Bxc3 13. Qxc3 Qxc3 14. bxc3 Bd7. Black has a slight edge due to White’s weak c pawns.

15. Be5 Ba4 16. Rb1 Nfd7.  Black’s Bishop is strong, his Knight threatens e5 and he is about to seize the c file and win a pawn.  17. Bd6 Rfc8 18. cxd5 exd5 19. Nf3 The pawn on c3 will fall anyway, so White decides to develop his Knight.

19... Rc6 20. Be7 Rxc3 21. Bb4 Rc7 22. Be2 Nc4 23. Nd4 Nf6 24. Rc1 Rac8 25. Nf5 Nd6 Black has a clear advantage: in addition to the pawn, his rooks are doubled, his Knight is well posted, and his Bishop is annoying, Here, Shankland accurately calculates how to simplify the game to an easier win. 26. Rxc7 Rxc7 27. Ne7+ (27. Nxd6 Rc1+) Kf8! (better than Rxe7 28. Bxd6) 28. Ng6+ Ke8 (28... hxg6?? 29. Bxd6+ )29. O-O.  Excellent play by both sides! But Black is still a clear pawn up.

29... Nde4 30. Ne5 b6 31. Ra1 a5 32. Be1 Nc3 33. Bd3 Nfe4 34. Nf3 Bb5 35. Bxb5+ Nxb5 Forcing the trade of White’s most active piece. 36. a4 Nbc3 37. Nd4 Rc4 38. f3 Nc5 39. Bxc3 Rxc3 40. Nb5 Rxe3 41. Nc7+ Kd7 42. Nxd5 Rb3. Although Black has not increased the material advantage, he has used his better piece position to reach a 2 versus 1 on the Queen side and the Black’s a pawn is very weak. Houdini says Black is up 2.1 and White is lost.

43. Rd1 Kc6 44. Ne7+ Kc7 45. Rd4 Ra3 46. Nd5+ Kc6 47. Ne7+ Kb7 48. Rd8 Rxa4 49. Rf8 Rd4 White resigns (Black will easily Queen his a pawn).

New York State Open

The Tiki in Lake George is the kind of motel that gives tourism a bad name. It features fake Polynesian décor, mediocre food, and has seen better days. Still, it is an excellent venue for a chess tournament the week before the main tourism season starts on Memorial Day weekend, and the Continental Chess Association, the largest sponsor of tournaments in the United States, does well by chess players to negotiate a discounted rate for chess players.

The New York State Open is an excellent opportunity for Capital District chess players to play against players from outside the region.

The Open section was won by Boston GM Alexander Ivanov with a 5-0 score; two local players, Albany club champion Jeremy Berman and Mike Mockler, had the opportunity to play him.

Twelve of the 32 players in the Open section were from the Capital District, including Martha Samadashvili, who drew a master and an expert on the way to a score of 2½ - 2½.

For the second year in a row, the Senior section (limited to players over 50 with a rating under 1910) was won by a local player: Alan LeCours, who tied for first with 4 ½ - ½, ahead of 20 other players, including five locals.

Thirty-four players, including five locals, competed in the under-1610 section; Albany player Thomas Clark tied for second with 4-1, raising his rating over 1600.   

This week’s problem:

Cherchez la femme

In the problem below, White has doubled rooks on the e file threatening Rxe8, which would lead to mate except for the fact that the Black rook on e8 is defended by both a rook and a queen. How does White win?
Readers may reach chess columnist Peter Henner by e-mail at

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